Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joyeux Noel

A week full of Christmas joy, finding more ancestors and a farewell to Elder and Sister Matheson. We emphasize our Savior in our Christmas activities which extended to Strasbourg, France.  We also got a few days in of Self-Reliance work.  The nativity set below was our Christmas gift to ourselves, we found it at a French Christmas Market.

Our week started with a farewell luncheon for Elder and Sister Matheson.  It was held in the Sun Flower restaurant.  The photo blow shows the Welfare and Self-Reliance departments that participated.  Elder and Sister Matheson are the first couple to the right.  They have just finished 23 months as Family Services missionaries.  Their replacement has still not arrived, so they are continuing their mission from their home in Provo. They have been some of our closest friends during the time that we have been in Europe.

We were allowed to take Elder and Sister Matheson to the airport on Tuesday morning, leaving home at 5:00 a.m.  As we watched their efforts to organize and prepare for their return home, it seems much easier to just stay on your mission.  The night before they left, they were notified by the Area Seventy in France that he had just called some mental help advisors.  This was one of their missing pieces and came as a tender mercy to them as they honorably completed their mission.

Elder and Sister Matheson, Sister Rueckert and Gilles, their manager at the airport

Senior Missionary Couples 

This was our week to meet with most of our full-time self-reliance missionary couples, including our new couple that has been recently called to Manchester, England.  Our Monday and Tuesday were filled with these individual video conferences.  Each meeting is uplifting as we hear of their experiences and successes. We love associating with other senior missionaries.  They are all  individuals who are consecrating their lives to help build the Kingdom of God.  Each comes with different personalities and strengths, but their consecration is universal. 

On Wednesday we had our weekly Book of Mormon class with the senior missionaries. Each time we meet together, I am in awe at the gospel understanding that is in that room.  Sometimes in my life as I have studied the scriptures I have felt a little alone in my gospel study, not sure how the rest of the world is doing.  When we are together it becomes clear that throughout the Church there are faithful saints who study the scriptures and do all in their power to follow the example of the Savior.  This is one of the many ways that we personally benefit from our mission.  

On Wednesday night our ward did some Christmas caroling in one of the main commercial areas of Frankfurt.  Several of the senior missionaries that participated went on the train together.  The following photos are of the missionary group before the caroling began.

After leaving the subway with the commercial area of Frankfurt  in the background

In front of My Zeil store
Close up of the reindeer display.  The store has an opening going into the upper floors.  This display shows the reindeer climbing into that opening.
Christmas Caroling

As several other ward members met us we moved to a more open section of thel area and began to sing.  We sang Christmas Carols out of the hymn book, focusing on the Savior.  This became a spiritual experience for those of us who participated.  The spirit was strong, many stopped to listen and the young full-time missionaries were active in talking to those who passed by.  One Sister missionary told me that when we were singing it became very easy to approach those that listened.  They were successful in placing many Books of Mormons and made several appointments.  This was one of the highlights of our Christmas Season so far.  It occurred one day before the Light the World challenge to worship with music, but that was close enough for us.

Singing near the fountain (to the left) in a large open area

More and more members arrived, adding to our numbers
Passers By stopping to listen

The following are several photos of missionaries (and our ward mission leader) talking to interested individuals.  Besides a wonderful spiritual event, it was a super missionary activity.

Family History

During the Christmas Caroling, one of the ward members shared with us a special experience that he had with his daughter the previous week. She was baptized and confirmed for several of our family names.  He told us that while performing the confirmation of his daughter for one of the "Rückerts"  he felt a very strong presence in the room of the person who was being confirmed.  This just helps us with more energy to pursue our family history opportunities.  This was one of my relatives who has received the gospel, now being set free with her ordinances performed.  We know that they are helping us on the other side in the work that we are doing.  This showed up again in our experiences of the next day.

Thursday morning we awakened early to make one more effort to visit the Pastor's office in Muhlhausen, where several of Sister Rueckert's ancestors are from.  This is the trip that ended poorly on the day after Thanksgiving (six hour wait on the Autobahn, etc.).  This time all went well.  We arrived on time and had the full attention of Dr. Kublik.  He offered to let us stay until 3:30 pm.  He not only allowed us to come and stay, but he spent the  entire time helping us.  The archive had books from 6 different churches in the area dating back to the 1500s and 1600s.

Shelves of old record books of births, marriages and deaths

Dr. Kublik, who was so super helpful

Dr. Kublik, using his experience and language to decipher the older handwriting
We started our efforts with the latest information we had on a few lines.  To begin with we checked out the 1783 marriage record of Georg Christoph Wender only to find the name of his father on this record.  This started an effort to correct data in Family Search.  After hours of work we were able to get the right marriages, birth dates and wives for Georg and his father Ernst as well as others from the Wender family.  We also found some wives and their families to add to the family tree.  This is work that probably could never have been done without the able help of Dr. Kublik

Original marriage record of Ernst Christoph Wender from  1783

 We finished our day at 3:25 pm when we found the marriage record of Herman Christian Müller, another of Sister Rueckert's ancestors.  Again, we were able to find information on the wife (previously unavailable) and her father.  Her mother was noted on a birth record of a granddaughter.

1738 Marriage record of Herman Christian Müller.  With  Dr. Kublik's help we identified the wife, Anna Dorothea Höpher and her father.
These are just a few examples of what we were able to accomplish on this trip.  In total we added 9 direct ancestors to Sister Rueckert's line and identified many other relatives.  We also took copies of images from several of the marriage books for further research.  Dr. Kublik told us to come back again next year and spend a few days.  He seemed not only willing but anxious to continue helping us.  We once again were amazed at the hand of the Lord through Dr. Kublik.  This is clearly the Lord's work.

We went back to work on Friday morning.  We had scheduled to go to Strasbourg, France with another missionary couple that afternoon.  Unfortunately, they were ill and not able to go with us.   So we went alone with plans to return on Saturday during the day.  Strasbourg considers themselves to be the Christmas Capital of the world.  Supposedly they were the first to have Christmas markets.  We had also heard that they had a special section dedicated to Portugal.  They are also in the region of others of my ancestors on my mother's side (however no family history on this trip).  Since they are only a couple hours from Frankfurt, we thought we could see some Christmas markets from two other countries in one visit. The hotel was walking distance from the Christmas markets which covered quite a few different areas of Strasbourg.

As we walked into the main plaza, we saw the largest Christmas tree we have yet seen in Europe.  It was beautifully decorated.   The many photos below and a few explanations hopefully give the reader a taste of a European Christmas Market.  It also will help remind us of the experiences that we have had.

Sister Rueckert in the plaza with the Christmas tree in the background.

French for Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas

Together in front of the tree

From the other direction
 One of the focus of this Christmas market is their Notre Dame cathedral.  Not only are there markets around it, but there is an incredible nativity setting inside.  This was probably the highlight of our visit.

Decorations in the back leading up to the Notre Dame Cathedral

 The nativity was set up sequentially, from the annunciation to Mary, the meeting with Elisabeth, the traditional nativity with the shepherds, as separate visit by the Wisemen and the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple.  We loved it.  The photos below are shown individually of each segment for a better view of the overall nativity.

An overall view of the size of the nativity in the Church
The visit to Mary by the angel Gabriel.  Behind is the meeting of Mary and Elisabeth.

The more standard nativity with Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the Shepherds

View from the stable scene, showing the camel and elephant with the wisemen

The wisemen visiting an older baby Jesus

The presentation in the temple

The other side of the cathedral with Christmas markets in front
We were looking for a French nativity to add to our collection of nativity scenes.  We found one that we fell in love with.   This is the one that we featured in the beginning of the blog.

One of the clear differences with the German Christmas markets is the food.  There were minimal signs of bratwurst in France.  Instead, crepes seemed to be the food of choice.  We had a very delicious egg, ham and cheese crepe made in front of us, which was a fun experience all in itself.

Preparing the crepe

adding the egg

Adding cheese
Folding the crepe over the ham

Delicious final product

We then went to the Portuguese Christmas Market and enjoyed some Portuguese dessert and other wares.  A few sights on the way:

Entrance to the Portugal Market

Some Portuguese delicacies, including their beloved dried Codfish (on the right)

We had our Portuguese dessert

We then moved onto the other section of the Christmas Market, several blocks to the side of the main market.  We found that they had even better items for view and sale, a very exhaustive selection.

Live Christmas trees were also available

Thousands of small figures

All you need for a do-it-yourself nativity set

We have seen too much emphasis on the Christmas scenes that do not include the Savior or the nativity.  In this example, only a few sets on the second row up include an actual nativity.  The rest are pretty and ornate, but exclude the Savior.
Big time Gingerbread displays and breads.  Very delicious!

More Christmas scenes with some nativities

Christmas tree ornaments

Of course plenty of food options
After several hours we were exhausted and returned to our hotel.   Actually the weather has been fairly mild this Christmas season which makes these outdoor markets more enjoyable.  Hot food and drinks also help warm us up during the visit.

We drove home on Saturday and were able to enjoy our ward Christmas dinner and program.  Plenty of food and many musical numbers.  The photo below is of our ward choir singing a few songs.  There were plenty of individuals sharing their talents and a few separate groups.